Gatland hails record-breaker Jones on eve of 149th Test

Warren Gatland has paid tribute to three-time British & Irish Lions tourist Alun Wyn Jones, as he prepares to break the world Test cap record. [more]

Gatland hails record-breaker Jones on eve of 149th Test

Jones will make his 149th Test appearance for Wales against Scotland in the Six Nations on Saturday, breaking Richie McCaw’s previous record of 148.

Jones has spent the majority of his international career under Lions head coach Gatland, who was in charge of Wales from 2007 to 2019, and won four Six Nations titles and three Grand Slams.

The pair also joined forces for the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia, which the tourists won 2-1, and the 2017 Tour to New Zealand, which ended 1-1.

Gatland has not ruled out selecting Jones, who has nine Lions Test caps, again for next summer’s series in South Africa, believing the second row is still at the top of his game.

“It’s an amazing accolade to become the world’s most-capped player, particularly from a small nation like Wales. I think he’s going to set the bar incredibly high,” he said.

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“I’m not surprised that he’s reached this milestone and I’m also not surprised by the longevity of his career.

“You know that recognition didn’t come early on, even though he was performing incredibly well. Wales were doing well and his performances for the Lions but it’s not probably until the last three four years that he’s had that recognition worldwide because of what he’s achieved.

“He’s an unbelievable competitor. He’s smart in the way that he plays, and that experience of knowing when to go hard, in terms of kick chase, the physicality that he brings in the contact area and the breakdown. He leads, very much, by example.”

Jones made his Test debut against Argentina in 2006 and featured at the first of four World Cups a year later.

Gatland took over as Wales head coach at end of the year and Jones started three matches as Wales won the Six Nations title and Grand Slam the following spring.

In 2009, he was selected for his first Lions Tour by head coach Sir Ian McGeechan, who had Gatland alongside him as an assistant, and featured in all three Test matches, including the first from the start.

A World Cup semi-final appearance followed in 2011, before Gatland and Jones claimed a second Grand Slam success in 2012 and defended the title in 2013 thanks to a thrilling 30-3 final-day win against England.

Jones went on his second Lions Tour later that summer and started all three Test matches against Australia. He replaced the injured Sam Warburton as captain for the final Test and led the Lions to a famous 41-16 win to seal a 2-1 series triumph.

He then started all three games in 2017, as the Lions secured a historic draw in New Zealand, while a third Six Nations Grand Slam and second World Cup semi-final followed in 2019.

The lock is the only man in the professional era to appear in nine straight Lions Test matches and Gatland believes he’s aged like a fine wine, saying Jones has grown as a player into his 30s.

“He’s a player who doesn’t often get injured, trains all the time and probably, as he’s got a little bit older and matured, he’s learned how to manage himself a lot better than his younger days,” he said.

“He’s incredibly well-respected, loved in Wales, he’s admired around the world. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him as a man, as a husband, as a father, and as Welsh captain.

“He came into the role late after Sam Warburton, but he’s done an incredible job in the way that he’s led in his own way. And I think that’s something that’s been very, very impressive. What he does after rugby? Who knows, but he’s an incredibly passionate man and a proud Welshman.”

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